Point-Counterpoint: Mike Reinold

Mike Reinold is a guy I not only respect, but someone I’ve learned a great deal from.

How can you NOT learn from a guy whose expertise is used to keep some of the greatest athletes in the world healthy?

So when Mike wrote a blog last week about why he DISLIKED the YTWL shoulder series, I was quick to listen. After all, I’ve spoken numerous times about why I like to use these exercises in my programming.

After reading the post, there were points that I agreed with, as well as a few that I disagreed with.

I want to go through Mike’s points, and add my thoughts as well. I feel like this is a great way to illustrate how people who have both had success treating shoulder issues* may look at the same thing through a slightly different lens.

(*Keep in mind I am in no way, shape or form saying I know as much about treating or dealing with shoulder issues as Mike. I’m pretty sure the guy has forgotten more about shoulders than I will ever know!)

Point #1 – It’s easy to hyperextend the lumbar spine.

This one is dead on – and it’s something that people have a tendency to do in almost ALL exercises, especially if they are weak through the core. Rather than use active stability to maintain a neutral alignment, it’s way easier to over-arch and get bony stability instead.

While I’m going to discuss performing these on an incline down at the bottom, this is one of the reasons I actually prefer starting people on an incline, at least initially. It’s a very stable environment, which allows them to focus on developing the muscles surrounding the shoulder blade.

One of the more advanced progressions we use at IFAST is the I, T, Y series with the upper torso off a bench. The key here is to focus on extending through the thoracic spine vs. the lumbar spine, while keeping the neck packed/in neutral.

Is it challenging? Yes.

Can it be done correctly? Yes.

In my estimation, it all comes down to proper coaching, cuing and client education.

Point #2 – Performing on an unstable surface potentially reduces force output and reduces the emphasis of the shoulder and scapular muscles.

Again, this is bang-on. If you missed my article a while back on unstable surface training, now would be a great time to check it out.

There is a time and place for unstable surface training in your upper body programming, but I don’t feel like scap prehab/rehab work is that time.

Point #3 – Performing on a physioball does not allow for full range of motion.

I agree whole-heartedly with Mike on this one. Unfortunately, it’s one I had to learn the hard way myself.

When I was just getting started training clients and athletes, this was how I first learned to perform the exercise. As I got better at my craft and started putting all the pieces together, I realized these exercises, when performed on a physioball, just aren’t that great.

Firstly, you don’t get the same degree of upper back/muscular recruitment because you’re unstable.

Second, I can almost guarantee your spine is nowhere near neutral. Your chest is caved over, your lumbar spine is hyperextended, or your neck is hyperextended. Or possibly, all three!

And third, yeah, you don’t get full range of motion!

All in all, there’s just too much stuff going on, and it’s hard to focus on the muscles you’re actually trying to target.

At this point in time, I don’t ever perform these exercises on a physioball.

Point #4 – If performed off the front of a table or bench, recruits too much upper trapezius and levator to help hold the head up.

This is absolutely correct, but I also feel this is where coaching and cuing come into play.

It’s critical to coach/cue your clients to keep the spine and neck in neutral when performing all exercises, but especially scapular prehab work.

One of the most common faults is inappropriate cuing of the “Y”, or overhead, position. Most people assume they are supposed to shrug, versus posteriorly tilting/depressing the scapulae.

If you need some tips, check out the video below:

Keep in mind as well that when performing these exercises with your head/upper torso off a bench, this is a very advanced progression. This definitely isn’t one you want to start with Day One!

Point #5 – If not performed parallel to the ground, it changes the muscle angle and recruits more deltoid.

While I can’t argue with Mike as far as the biomechanics go, I think there’s a subtle difference of opinion here.

And maybe we have a similar thought process, but the clients we treat and the situations we’re in are a bit different.

While I understand that you’re going to get a bit more deltoid recruitment in this position, I also feel like this is the best position to get most people started.

Firstly, their torso is stable and supported, which allows them to recruit the appropriate muscles.

Secondly, they don’t need as much muscular strength as they would in truly prone position because they aren’t moving directly against gravity. In the incline position, there’s a bit more mechanical advantage, coupled with some room to get a “running start.”

(And yes, I’m ok with a little momentum initially, as long as they get into the appropriate mid-point position.)

So many of my clients/athletes have no clue how to properly move their scapulae it’s ridiculous. When I put them on an incline they can typically start to learn the appropriate positions and start to facilitate the muscles, so that I can eventually get them into a position where they are parallel to the floor.

Is it ideal? Maybe, and maybe not.

But at the end of the day, I feel like it’s worth it. If I can teach them proper mechanics of their scapulae (retraction, depression, posterior tilt, etc.), that’s going to transfer over into better overall scapular stability, and as a result, fewer shoulder and upper extremity injuries.

Keep in mind, though, there’s one big thing that I need to mention: With my clients (and all our clients at IFAST), they get a ton of coaching.

This was the crux of one of Mike’s arguments – it’s not so much that these exercises are bad, but they must be coached effectively. And it’s hard to argue that.

I think we know that there are very bad exercises – but performed poorly, almost any exercise is bad.

One final point that Mike made that I am going to try out soon is performing all of these exercises in a unilateral fashion. I’ve done that in the past with clients who have issues that are more prevalent on one sides versus the other, but if I can get better results with a subtle tweak like this I’m all for it!

How do you feel about the shoulder series?

Do you use it with your clients, or in your programs?

I’m looking forward to some great discussion in the “Comments” section below!

Stay strong


PS – If you’d like to learn more about Mike’s (and Eric Cressey’s) thoughts on evaluating and treating shoulder injuries, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of their Optimal Shoulder Performance DVD’s. This DVD series is a must-have in your collection.


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  1. I cycle my warmups periodically, and I just started doing a standing bent over version of all of these with a 5 pound plate. I tried a unilateral bent-over Y… and it didn’t go too well. It messed up my entire recruitment pattern and felt awkward…

    When trying to incorporate a unilateral movement like this, I should have set up on an incline bench with no load and then progressed to standing and then to the 5 pounds… but now I know, and I’ll try it again on my next upper body training day.

  2. I think you made an important distinction here, Mike, with the emphasis being on coaching/cuing. What is the movement being used for? Teaching appropriate scapular motion or actually strengthening scapular stabilizers? Not always the same. Hence where the art of training comes in-it depends on the situation.

  3. I’ve been doing YTWL’s on a large stability ball so I’m able to achieve a full range of motion. I also anchor my feet against a wall, so I am pretty stable even though I’m using an unstable surface. I thought the goal was to be as parallel with the floor as possible for these which is why I haven’t used an incline bench. Do you think performing the series in this fashion is still not ideal?? What can you recommend?? Thanks for constantly putting up such great content Mike!

    • I don’t think the ROM is as important as getting the movements down correctly.

      I will typically only use variations either on an incline, on the floor, or torso off the bench.

  4. The more that I prescribe this exercise, the more I’m starting to just favour using a seated row with locked elbows and a wide grip, and retracting the shoulderblades back and down. Stretch pec minor and levator scap between sets. The mid/low traps while not initially, are going to be stronger than the delts, and after the short “activation” period, I’ve found just getting them as directly strong as possible has negated the requirement. This replaces the seated row as well.

    What is your opinion on simply using SMFR and various stretching to allow for the optimal ROM, and simply strengthening the low and mid traps with the best leverage exercises possible (chest supported horizontal shrug or even chest supported prone with a DB unilaterally) The same method can be used with vertical pulling, and you can use scap pushups for serratus activation.

    I’m just a minimalist at heart and I feel that if activation is just low load training, then just use the most direct approach and build up in strength. YTWLs are difficult to really strengthen the targeted muscles once they exceed the capability of the deltoids to actually move the GH joint.

    A workout would look like this:

    SMFR pec/pec minor, peanut tennis balls on t spine, and upper back
    A1 Chest Suppoted Horizontal Shrug, wide grip, emphasize back and down.
    A2 Pec/Pec Minor stretch
    A3 Levator scap/Upper trap stretch
    3-4 sets, can do iso holds, peak holds, or just reps

    • While I like the set-up/progression, that really depends on the client. Do they need all that to get into the appropriate position?

      Some will, and some won’t.

      As far as the minimalist approach, I’m good with that. But I would also say this – depending on how far you regress them, aren’t you getting the same basic training effect?

      If they only have 10 pounds doing a seated retraction on a cable stack, is that necessarily better?

      Here’s my end thought – use activation to activate, use strengthening exercises to strengthen. I’ll keep using the Y, T, I to teach movement and activation, then load with more appropriate exercises.


  5. I was wondering if there is a different recruitment of the scapular retractors in the unilateral version due to the increased range of motion, for the reason that the sholder blades cannot squeeze together…..

  6. Hey Mike, great post and some really good cues. At the end, EVERYTHING comes down to great coaching!

    I usually do incline LYTPs during the warm-up section to properly activate the scapula (together with other exercises) and proceeding to either flat LYTPs or one-arm isolated Ys, Ts and Ls. Works great that way =) Using the isolated ones I feel it’s a lot easier to keep the neck neutral throughout the whole movement and focusing just on the scapula.

    Keep up the good work Mike, !

    Kennet W

  7. Hi Mike,

    I love this topic and was glad Mike brought it up and like your insight as well. But, I feel like playing Devil’s advocate which is hard because all of your practical points are bang-on but I can quibble with some of the details. In would like to defend the exercises on the physio ball which is ironic because I spent 4 years conducting biomechanic research questioning their utility(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978444/). Here are my points/questions:

    1. Don’t you think you can cue the spine into a neutral position when performed on the ball? And if the spine is not in neutral who cares? There is minimal loading in this position and it no where near end range so you are not compromising its integrity in terms of compression or shear forces or even fatigue tolerance (no one does the YTWLs for 8 hours a day).

    2. A lack of full range of motion – How much is lacking? Maybe 20% and at what range? The bottom 20% when there is very little resistance to gravity and less muscle activity anyway. This is a bigger topic but strength is not 100% range specific – there is still a huge carryover to other ranges of motion from the ranges that are being worked. We will be getting a posterior shoulder challenge with a smaller range and even if performed quasi-isometrically.

    3. I don’t think we can argue (from the existing research) that you don’t get the same degree of upper back/muscular recruitment because you’re unstable. I am not arguing you can get more (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17643339) but I don’t think there is less muscle activation. I recognize that some work shows there is less force production but that is when the vector of the force production (squats) or its supporting reaction force (bench press on ball) is driven through the unstable surface.

    Just a side note, I think its great to do the exercises the way you have suggested in your post and Mike’s suggestions. You can certainly toss your balls away. I just wanted to discuss some of your points. I can’t believe I am defending the Swill ball…just keeping an open albeit critical mind.

    All the best,


    • We’ll go in order here:

      1 – Can you get them in neutral spine? Yes, of course. But is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

      If the goal is peri-scap activation, then why muck around with a physioball first in the progression? I guess it’s more where you’d put it in a progression vs. is it useful or not. I wouldn’t start with it, that’s for sure.

      Secondly, I’m not so much worried about back stress as I am getting all their joints firing in the appropriate positions. This is why I cue a neutral neck when doing a clam shell or sleeper stretch. I feel like neutral spine is important in every exercise, as it lays a foundation for better alignment from head-to-toe.

      So yes, I would argue that it’s important.

      2 – Agreed – we often shorten the range more than anything to keep the stress on the appropriate muscles.

      3 – I think I see what you’re saying here and I’m pretty sure I agree. 🙂

      Good thoughts and feedback!

  8. Great point-counter point!

    I agree with you on all this.

    As I’ve shown in videos we use the swiss ball w/active hip flexion to create reciprocal inhibition of the lumbar extensors while doing shoulders LYT circuits.

    And, As long as your feet are kept at hip width or wider apart, I’ve never found any instability limiting factors involved with using the ball to perform this exercise.

    Keep up the great posts!
    Coach N

    • Thanks Nick! And thanks for the thoughts on the physioball as well – I’m always open to learning.

  9. Nice one Mike- I agree with Nick. We have had success coaching folks on the stability ball by cueing them to “suck their knees under the ball” to prevent lumbar ext. If done correctly, it also accomplishes your description of thoracic ext while hanging off of the bench. That being said, nothing wrong with regressing someone to the incline bench if they don’t get it. Once again, it depends!

  10. Great post Mike!
    I do use this series but agree that there is alot of coaching involved in doing it correctly, especially with the poor thoracic and cervical posture most people fall into. But if they can learn how to maintain good posture and control their scapulae in this movement, it is one more step in ther right direction.
    Sometime I do not have access to an incline surface and will use a physioball – thanks for the active hip flexion tip Nick and Rick, definately will use that.

    Keep up the great content!

    Keep up the great content!

  11. Mike,

    Have you tried the exercises in the quadruped position? Seems to have good carryover to other exercises (db row, deadlift) as it reinforces getting into position and maintaining neutral spine.

    Matt Skeffington

    • I have not but I like where you’re going with this; I’ll have to try it.

      Theoretically, though, you could achieve 3 things at once:

      – Neutral spine alignment
      – Mid/low trap recruitment on “moving” side
      – Serratus activation/recruitment on “stabilizing” side.

      Good stuff!

  12. Hi Mike,

    As always you present some great ideas, but I wanted to share my thoughts on why I coach performing the ITY on a stability ball with some of my clients (it’s a progression.). If this is completely off base, then I’ll adjust accordingly. At 44 I’m still quite coachable.

    Anyways, I position the client with their feet against the wall and cue them as if they’re being shot out of a cannon. This position promotes that ideal neutral spine we’re looking for and in doing so we can turn on the glutes and the rest of the posterior chain quite nicely and with my clientele that sort of activation is welcomed. So back to my rationale, I view it as an anti-flexion movement paired with scapular stabilization. In regards to limited ROM with a SB, I’m dealing primarily with women so I feel the 65 cm minimizes that concern.

    Your thoughts are very welcomed.

    Thanks in advance,


    • John –

      I don’t think you’re off base – this is just what I prefer.

      You can definitely argue for/against a lot of things, and if you have a rationale for why you do something (and it works/isn’t injurious) who am I to tell you otherwise?

      I’m just glad you’re thinking critically. Keep it up!


  13. This is the first time I have heard of posterior scapular tilt. Are any other terms used to describe this movement? Could you please describe this movement and how it is created? Thanks for your time.



  14. Mike,

    Thank you very much for the link, it lead me to a very informative PowerPoint presentation about scapular movement! Thanks again for your time.



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